‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Review

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Writers: James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Keean Johnson, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali

Synopsis: A deactivated female cyborg is revived, but cannot remember anything of her past life and goes on a quest to find out who she is.

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Based on the anime and manga series created by Yukito Kishiro, Alita: Battle Angel has been a passion project for James Cameron for decades now, but put if off for Titanic, and because he didn’t think the visual effects were up for the vision he had. Then Avatar happened and Cameron’s focus went to developing those films that he passed along the directorial duties to his friend Robert Rodriguez, who was also a fan of the series. Now, we get the vision that Cameron probably intended with bombastic visual effects, some pretty solid set pieces and a pretty descent cast.

Set 300 years after The Fall, Alita: Battle Angel follows a resurrected abandoned cyborg named Alita (Rosa Salazar), by Doctor Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz). When she awakes, she has no recollection of her former life, despite not being hardwired like a normal cyborg that Ido usually deals with. Alita now has to learn how things work in Iron City, while also dealing with Vector (Mahershala Ali) – the man who runs Iron City from above – a group of bounty hunters called Hunter Warriors, taking an interest to Hugo (Keean Johnson), a local in Iron City, and Iron City’s favorite sport – Motorball.

One of the best aspects going for Alita: Battle Angel is the amazing special effects that Cameron and the special effects department were able to pull off. On top of that, the 3D makes everything pretty immersive from Iron City, to the city of Zalem in the sky and Motorball (although, we can probably safely assume that most of that was CG). Plus, when it comes to Alita herself, she was motion-captured by Salazar herself, with some new motion-capture Cameron is going to use in the Avatar sequels. While most big budget movie – this being Robert Rodriguez’s most expensive movie to date –  have great ambition like Alita: Battle Angel, the adaptation actually works for what it’s trying to accomplish.

Which, of course, is an accomplishment in itself since most – if not all – anime adaptations lose a lot of what made the anime so beloved. I haven’t watched original anime, nor read the manga, but from what I was able to read it seems like Alita: Battle Angel is a pretty faithful adaptation, which should make fans happy. But, you don’t need to watch the anime to really enjoy the movie, because overall, Alita: Battle Angel is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining film.

The cast is also pretty solid considering how bombastic the movie is, with almost the whole movie being put on Rosa Salazar’s shoulders. Thankfully, Salazar is able to carry it as she brings the right amount of naivety, wonderment and badassery the role requires. Christoph Waltz plays the father-figure role well, but I wish he was in it just a tad bit more, while Alita’s other man in her life is Keean Johnson’s Hugo, who is just a bit wooden at times, and even though his character gets an interesting storyline in the movie, his development is just a tad lackluster. The villains are very mixed with Mahershala Ali’s Vector not getting enough screen time to be a real threat, Ed Skrein plays a Hunter Warrior named Zapan who is just the right amount of smug and Jackie Earle Haley plays the dangerous Grewishka, who Alita goes head-to-head a couple of times. I would mention Jennifer Connelly’s Chiren, but she doesn’t have enough screen time to really make an impact. The movie is also filled with some cameos that could surprise people, especially one that I was shocked, like many, that they were able to keep secret.

The movie does have some minor problems, like some pacing issues here and there, but weirdly – and surprisingly – with the two hour runtime the movie moves are a pretty brisk pace. The overall story misses some beats, and one thing most viewers might not like is the ending. Admittedly, I found out it’s essentially how the anime ends too, but seeing how Hollywood is a different beast, and seeing how they set up it, it should be interesting to see how things work out.

All in all, Alita: Battle Angel has some minor flaws, but overall is thoroughly entertaining and ton of fun to watch. Rosa Salazar holds the movie up on her shoulders, and no the big CGI eyes will not bother you, plus, it actually helps with the character’s situation. Hopefully, Alita: Battle Angel starts a resurgence of good anime adaptations, no matter the result at the box office.

Alita: Battle Angel

4 out of 5

‘Noah’ Review

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Dir: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, and Anthony Hopkins
Synopsis: A man is chosen by God to undertake a momentous mission of rescue before an apocalyptic flood destroys the world.

 
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review of this interruption of the biblical tale.*

 
Whatever your faith or how much you believe or don’t believe in the story itself, the tale of Noah is inherently a tough one – this is a story involving just about all of humanity wiped out, all at once. And this film doesn’t shy away from that at all, both in the grand scale of those killed by the floods and also in smaller, more intimate and, arguably, more disturbing ways. There is one scene in particular where Noah makes a choice that is frankly shocking to see. Director Darren Aronofsky and Russell Crowe walk a delicate line here with audience sympathy, yet manage to convey that this is a man doing what he truly believes must be done, no matter how difficult it is to comprehend at face value. According to Aronofsky, and something I come to see as well, Noah is person that suffers from the ultimate survivor’s guilt. This movie touches on that but also asks another question, what happens when you give a man an extremely life changing mission?

 

The opening (including some text onscreen that, essentially, gives you the grand scale of things with some cool Aronosfky visuals) establishes that God, here called “The Creator”, is certainly believed in by everyone, but also has gone so long that it’s assumed he long abandoned or moved on from the people he put on the Earth. The exception to this, of course, is Noah (Crowe) who begins to have visions sent to him by the Creator, warning that thanks to humanity’s misdeeds, the end is coming, in the form of a great flood.

 

With the aid of his grandfather, Methuselah (Hopkins, although he is only referred to as Grandfather by everyone in Noah’s family and Noah himself), Noah realizes he is meant to build a massive Ark, which will hold animals and Noah’s own family, all of whom will be the key to re-starting society all over again. Although Noah takes pride in his task at the outset, he starts to doubt if anyone, including his family, is worthy of being saved

 

Noah is assisted by his family from the start, including his wife, Naameh (Connelly) and his sons, the oldest Shem (Booth), the middle child Ham (Lerman) and the youngest Japheth (McHugh Carroll). And then there’s Ila (Watson), who they saved as a little girl and raise among their family – where she and Shem are romantically involved.

 

This version of Noah is obviously a different interpretation told than before. Besides Noah’s family, Noah is helped by others in the form of the Watchers, angels that are envisioned as giant rock creatures trapped in their current form as a punishment by the Creator. The Watchers have an angelic light inside them that makes their eyes and mouth glow, making them feel like something out of Lord of the Rings. The design is interesting as they’re so massive they kind of just lunge around but when its time to take action and protect the Ark, they become one of the highlights of the film, even though we never really get to know their names expect for Og (voiced by Frank Langella) and Samyaza (voiced by Nick Nolte).

 

The cast for the most part really works. Crowe can convey toughness and determination and is, for this interpretation, the right guy to play someone as focused as Noah is, who will not let anything get in his way. He also gets to show some other pretty intense emotions as the film continues and Noah begins to believe that perhaps the Creator’s intentions are even more difficult than it seemed, on a personal level. He’s also a bit of a badass. We see Noah early on defend himself from three attackers and when the Ark is under attack from Tubal-cain (the always reliable Ray Winestone) and his army, he does what he has to do to complete his mission.

 

As for the other men in the film, Lerman who plays Ham is the most conflicted amongst Noah’s sons, and has some understandable concerns and jealousies. Ham’s conflict brings him into the growing struggle between Noah and Tubal-cain, a villain who also has a unique position in the film. He does do awful things but he says things in such away you almost feel wrong agreeing with him. Douglas Booth’s Shem, the oldest son, isn’t given a lot to do but protect Watson’s Ila. Finally, Anthony Hopkins for the short amount of screen time he has does his usual best

 

But beside Crowe and Winstone, the women really do take center stage here. More specifically Emma Watson as Ila. Thanks to being attacked as a child she is unable to have children – something that is a concern to her given that she is the future of mankind. Watson holds her own with Crowe and have some great chemistry together, especially near the end. But, Watson is excellent at conveying Ila feelings as she looks at her place in this family. Jennifer Connelly’s Naameh, doesn’t have much to do at first, but Connelly stands out in one particular scene near the end as Naameh stands up to Noah; for the first time believing her husband, who she has supported for so long, is the wrong about a decision he’s making.

 

Not shockingly, Aronofsky’s visuals are gorgeous, highlighted by a sequence in which we see the Creation Story play out in a dynamic, thrilling manner, that expertly mixes time-lapse photography with special effects.

 

There are some iffy CGI at points (mostly with the animals but considering the scale of this project it’s kind of okay) and, despite its huge scale, Noah does have some moments where it hits some bumps. As I mentioned earlier, the promotional material surprisingly hasn’t given away much. We actually see and spend a good chuck of time in the Ark. Here is where the movie slows down a bit, but with great acting scenes and the dilemmas the characters, mostly Noah, have to make it adds some tense and emotional sequences that make the time in the Ark worth while.

 

All in all, Noah will, obviously, play very differently depending on how you interpret the Bible or even care about religion. Some will probably find it boring or uninteresting, which is fine, but given the bold approach that Aronofsky takes I hope people appreciate the movie just for what it is (I know, that’s asking a lot).

 

Noah
4 out of 5